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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: When will they learn?

Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: When will they learn?

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The saga of the solid waste tax continues. Isn’t this Government embarrassed by its continual blundering? Hasn’t it learned that serious matters like taxation must be well thought out before they’re announced?
This constant chopping and changing does nothing to improve its already abysmal image. Wouldn’t it be better to seek public input before drafting laws? I suppose that would be too damaging to their egos, but isn’t this fumbling even more damaging? Then again, I suppose politicians have become so accustomed to us Bajans being submissive that the present reaction came as a surprise.
We’ve seen bungling before but the solid waste tax issue takes the cake. Let’s look at the sequence. During the parliamentary debate it didn’t seem clear whether it was based on site or improved values. Then it was established that it was site values of improved land only. Then the percentage was 0.7 per cent, then it changed to 0.3 per cent with no exemptions. The deadline was June 30, then July 28; now we hear it’s December 31.
The tax was to begin in 2015 (“ . . . legislation on the municipal solid waste tax would be taken to Parliament, even though the tax would not come on stream until 2015 . . . . We will do the legislation anyway in 2014, but it will not be applicable until 2015” – Barbados Government Information Service October 2013). Then it was changed to 2014.
It was said to be for one year, now we’re hearing it will be reviewed after a year. It was recently announced that pensioners with improved values (not site values as was stated originally as the basis for the tax) up to $190 000 are exempt and owners of agricultural land will pay 50 per cent of the tax. Where will it all end? Will those who have already paid based on the original act and who are now exempt or subject to a reduced tax, ever receive their refunds? Maybe we should all wait until December 31 to see if Government will do the right thing and repeal the act or if they will make further changes.
Just think about all the time and energy wasted by so many people over this tax – and now more of Parliament’s time has to be wasted validating these changes. Can we afford this? Although we’re convinced more than ever that the tax has nothing to do with waste management, the stated basis is flawed. How can people living in condominiums attract a fraction of the tax of single houses on larger plots of land if the tax is based on garbage produced? How can plantations which have one or two houses on hundreds of acres (and which dispose of their own garbage) be taxed based on the entire acreage? Shouldn’t it be on the area occupied by the houses producing the garbage and not the acreage under agriculture?
With respect to agricultural land, there are questions which I’ve never managed to get the authorities to answer and which I think the public has a right to know. As it stands, land which is in agriculture attracts a 50 per cent rebate on land tax. But what about the land which was traditionally in agriculture but has now been allowed to go to bush? Is this still being allowed the 50 per cent rebate?
Despite my best efforts, I have never been able to get the powers that be to give a definitive answer. If these plantation owners are in fact getting this 50 per cent land tax rebate and will now benefit further from a 50 per cent rebate on the solid waste tax, there will be no incentive whatsoever to put the land back in agriculture. Far from it, these “would-be developers” will be smiling and waiting patiently to get permission to develop the land.
Another question which nobody seems to be able to answer is what happened to the surcharge on idle agricultural lands which I believe was introduced by the Tom Adams administration. Furthermore, was the Local Defence Control Order, which mandated all plantations to plant a certain percentage of their land in food crops ever repealed? If not, aren’t all these abandoned estates contravening this order? What is the penalty?
Finally, I would like Reverend Gerry Seale to explain his view that the tax is unjust, but those who introduced it are decent people doing their best. Seems contradictory to me!
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.